Rice’s Bradford wins the American Philosophical Association’s 2017 Book Prize

The American Philosophical Association (APA) announced June 14 that Gwen Bradford, an associate professor of philosophy at Rice, has been awarded the 2017 Book Prize for “Achievement” (Oxford University Press), which is about the nature and value of achievement.

Gwen Bradford. Photo by Zack Smith

The APA Book Prize, in the amount of $4,000, is awarded in odd-numbered years for the best published book that was written by a young scholar during the previous two years.

Bradford, who has been at Rice since 2010, studies value theory and normative ethics.

Published in 2015, “Achievement” presents the first systematic philosophical account of what achievements are and what makes them worth doing, according to Oxford University Press. As the book shows, it turns out that more things count as achievements than one might have thought, and that what makes them valuable isn’t something one usually thinks of as good. Bradford proposes that difficulty, perhaps surprisingly, plays a central part in characterizing achievements and their value. In other words, achievements are worth the effort.

In her book, Bradford gives a thorough analysis of the nature of difficulty. Ultimately, the best account of the value of achievements taps into perfectionist theory of value, which holds that the excellent exercise of people’s characteristically human capacities is intrinsically good, Bradford said. In “Achievement,” one sees “a new perfectionist theory developed that succeeds in capturing the value of achievement better than its predecessors,” Oxford University Press wrote in its description of the book.

The chair of the selection committee said of Bradford’s book, “The APA Book Prize is given in recognition of a philosophical achievement, and this year’s winner offers a lucid and groundbreaking account of the nature and value of what the prize recognizes. An achievement is when someone succeeds in bringing about a goal, in the face of difficulty, as a result of knowing what they’re doing. Since difficulty calls for effort and a distinctively human exercise of the will, achievement contributes to a life lived well. Gwen Bradford’s thinking in this book represents an elegant proof of concept.”

In 2013-14, Bradford was a faculty fellow at the Murphy Institute at Tulane University. She received her Ph.D. from Yale University in 2010. Bradford also works on perfectionism, the theory of value that holds that the excellent exercise of our characteristically human capacities is intrinsically good. Bradford’s work extends to the nature of intrinsic value, organic unities, well-being, moral responsibility, philosophy of sport and issues in epistemology.

Bradford is the second Rice faculty member to receive this prize. Charles Siewert, the Hayes Chair in Humanities and professor of philosophy, earned the honor in 2001 for “The Significance of Consciousness.”

Founded in 1900, the American Philosophical Association promotes the discipline and profession of philosophy, both within the academy and in the public arena.

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is associate director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.